Mt May hike
Why this under-rated peak may be one of the best hikes in South East Queensland
It’s not often that you drive to a mountain hike near Brisbane on a beautiful clear morning and find a near-empty car park. I couldn’t believe my luck that I nearly had the mountain to myself! Then came the thoughts of who would find me if I fell off a cliff, twisted my ankle, got bitten by a snake… Before I could think of too many other potential disasters, I double-checked my trusty personal locator beacon was in my pack, and set off.
Mount May is one of the seven spectacular peaks in Mt Barney National Park, along with Mt Barney, Mt Maroon, Mt Ernest, Mt Clunie, Mt Ballow and Mt Lindesay. It’s over-shadowed by Mt Barney, which towers over it by 500 meters. At a ‘mere’ 839 meters, Mt May isn’t even in the kilometer-high club. And it doesn’t have the 360 degree panoramas like Mt Maroon, so it’s often ignored or forgotten about. So why would you waste your time with Mt May?
Well, it has a sense of tranquility and remoteness, away from the weekend Mt Barney “crowds”. It also has a sense of adventure. Being less well-trodden, I think it’s more navigationally challenging .
But shhhh… don’t tell too many people about this secret treasure in Brisbane’s backyard.
Mt May Circuit including the North and South Peaks.
In early June, I headed out to tackle the Mt May circuit.
The Mt May circuit is usually hiked in a clockwise direction, ascending the Northern peak and descending the Southern peak. This direction is recommended as it’s easier navigationally. Also the steep, loose rocks on the Northern ridge are much easier to go up then down. This is my GPS map of the Mt May Circuit [opens in a new tab due to file size]. I’m not sure if I always found the “best” path, particularly from the North to South Peak, but it worked for me and I’m terrified of heights!
There’s a few steep scrambles up exposed rocks. Some navigational skills are required as there’s absolutely no signs or track markings. It’s highly recommended to have a map and compass, or a mapping app [eg ViewRanger or Wikiloc] with the map and area pre-downloaded or cached. There’s limited internet access for most of the hike, but there is some reception on the peaks.
You’ll also need to take water, as there’s no water up on the peaks.
The whole hike is about 7km. My total time was 4 hours, including lunch at the summit and lots of photo stops. Most books and guides say to allow 6 hours. My GPS watch recorded a total 705m elevation gain.
I have a little Mazda2, so my adventure started with the drive along the dirt-track that is Waterfall Creek Road. Luckily the weather had been good so the track was in good nick. The biggest hurdle was the cows. They all seemed pretty happy where they were and weren’t in any hurry to move for my little car!
The trail starts at the Waterfall Creek Reserve Camping Ground. There was only one other car parked near the big red 4WD sign.
One of the hardest parts of the hike was finding the start of the trail! There’s a small rock cairn next to a tree just before the 4WD sign
There was no gentle warm-up, the uphill slog started straight away. The trail started with a rock slab before becoming a winding uphill rocky trail. You know it’s not easy when the first look-out point is only 200m along, albeit the view wasn’t too impressive yet!
The trail climbed up, up, up past grass trees and wildflowers through dry eucalypt forest.
After about 1.2km, the first glimpses of Lake Maroon appear through the trees. At the first rock slab, you have to scramble up the rocky slab, veering left. I was a little worried that the rock scrambles had started already! But this turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the trail.
Over the next 600m, there were a few rocky slabs. But they were all more gentle than the first, with great views east to Mt Maroon.
North Peak was an anti-climax. To be blunt, it was a rock cairn in the woods. But I took a peek behind the trees to the right, and found some great views of Lake Maroon, with the ridges of Mt Toowoonan behind the lake. I think it looks like one of those old-fashioned jelly moulds! The mighty Main Range is off in the distance.
Getting from the North Peak to the South Peak required some care. There were some steep cliffs going both down into and up out of the saddle. I found the descent from the North Peak to be the toughest section of the trail navigationally. There was one point where the best path seemed to be clambering along a bit of a ledge. I really took my time route-finding, consulting two different hiking apps and was rewarded by not having to descend anything too terrifying.
I stumbled across the camp site in the saddle of the two peaks, and was relieved that I must be on the right track. The camp site looked charming and is definitely on my “to do” list. The sunrise and sunset views from the South Peak would be pretty spectacular!
From the South Peak, there were great views to Mt Barney and Lake Maroon.
It’s not as open as the Mt Maroon and Mt Barney summits, but the trees added to the charm.
The best view of Mt Barney was actually at the start of the descent.
The descent down the South Peak was steeper, but somehow much less scary. It’s less exposed, and the steep parts have nice solid foot and hand holds.
I quickly got back to Waterfall Creek Road, where it was 3.5 km hike along the 4WD road back to the start. Normally a 4WD trail would be a little boring, but the views back to the peak I’d just conquered were stunning!
I arrived back at the empty car park with a sense of blissful solitude. I nearly wanted to go back and do the hike again, but I was craving a milkshake!
With a 4WD, you could just do an out-and-back up the South Peak, starting and finishing 3.5km further along Waterfall Creek Road. This would be 3km return hike.